SEOUL - The World Food Programme today welcomed a donation of 100,000 tonnes of maize from the Republic of Korea for an emergency operation in North Korea that seeks to assist 6.5 million vulnerable people, most of them children and women.
"We are deeply grateful for this generous contribution. It will allow us to continue providing vital, supplemental rations to the neediest of the needy in North Korea through the harsh winter," James Morris, Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, said in Seoul following a meeting with South Korea's Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo.
"In little more than a generation, the Republic of Korea has transformed itself from a country dependent on food aid into an economic powerhouse. This exemplary achievement makes it an ideal ally in our campaign to end hunger, surely the most compelling and curable of all major crises," Morris said.
"We are seeking to forge a new, mutually rewarding partnership that reflects our shared vision of a world free of hunger. We are thankful for the leadership, expertise and resources you have to offer worldwide," Morris said, noting that donations to WFP are sufficient for less than a tenth of those suffering from chronic malnutrition worldwide. He was speaking on the second day of a three-day visit to the South Korean capital.
On Thursday, Morris met Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon. He also held discussions with a number of South Korean business executives. "We are keen to enlist the support of individuals and companies in your dynamic private sector for our work in North Korea, where it costs just US$26 to feed a child for a year."
On Saturday, he is to meet former president and Nobel peace laureate Kim Dae-jung for talks on the humanitarian situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and the international response to it.
South Korea, the world's 12th largest economy, is already a significant WFP donor. Since 1999 it has pledged US$51.2 million to the agency, making life-saving contributions to emergency operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and west and southern Africa.
It is one of the main suppliers of food aid through WFP to the DPRK, maintaining its commitment at 100,000 tonnes of maize annually for the past three years, even as the total volume of donations the agency received for the North declined.
Morris acknowledged that the substantial food assistance South Korea pledges bilaterally to the DPRK - including 1.2 million tonnes of rice in the form of concessional loans since 2002 - helps preserve peace on the peninsula.
"We still face a range of frustrating access and monitoring restrictions in the North, but remain the best assurance that food aid intended for the most needy children, women and elderly people there actually reaches them."
WFP is by far the largest aid agency in the DPRK. More than half the 40 international employees at its main office in Pyongyang and five sub-offices around the country are directly engaged in food monitoring and tracking.
It implements a strict "no access, no food" policy, with assistance provided only to the 161 out of 203 counties and districts, accounting for 85 per cent of the 23 million population, where staff can monitor.
During its nine years in the DPRK the agency has progressively refined its targeting mechanisms, building valuable databases on food availability, prices, incomes, consumption patterns and coping mechanisms.
"This infrastructure is unique in the DPRK, and it costs. But it does much to ensure that those who need help, receive it," Morris said.
Prior to today's pledge by the Republic of Korea, WFP had secured 54 per cent of the US$171 million needed to help feed the most vulnerable North Koreans in 2004, and been forced to drop many of them from its distribution plans for long periods during the year.
The operation targets primarily those most affected by lack of dietary balance and those who have no means of meeting their minimum caloric or micronutrient requirements. It also seeks to assist households most negatively affected by the country's economic adjustment process.
Urban families in the DPRK now spend up to 85 per cent of their incomes on food. Such households are heavily dependent on inflation-prone private markets, where staples cost 10-15 times more than in government-run Public Distribution Centres. Much of the population is afflicted by critical dietary deficiencies, consuming very little protein, fat or micro-nutrients. Meat, fish and eggs are rare luxuries.
The average seven-year old North Korean boy is 20 centimetres shorter and 10 kilograms lighter that his South Korean cousin.
Food production in the DPRK has increased in the past three years, but the potential for further improvement is constrained by a very limited availability of arable land, machinery, fertilizer and fuel, as well as a deficient irrigation system.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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